A prominent advocate group renewed calls for a government moratorium on sending migrant workers to Malaysia following the latest fatal shooting of alleged criminals by the nation's increasingly trigger-happy police.
Three Indonesian men — identified as Wahab, Sudarsono, and Gusti Randa — were reportedly loitering near the roadside in Ulu Tiram, Johor Bahru, on Jan.11 when they were approached by police conducting an early morning patrol of the area — the site of several recent robberies, according to reports in Malaysian media. When the police approached the men one of them allegedly brandished a revolver, firing off two shots, as his accomplices came at the officers with machetes in hand.
The police opened fire, killing all three. An investigation determined that the men were reportedly involved in a string of armed robberies — 25 in total — in the Johor Bahru area, the Malaysian newspaper New Straits Times reported. Officers recovered two machetes, a revolver, bullets and a fake gun from the scene.
The shooting, the latest of Indonesian citizens by Malaysian police, set off claims of government inaction in Indonesia. Malaysian police have engaged on a nationwide crackdown on criminal activity in recent months after a rash of violent crimes gripped the capital. But human rights groups have argued that most of those targeted in the raids were minorities, a hot-button issue in this racially stratified nation after years of pro-Malay government policies.
Since 2007, Malaysian police have fatally shot more than 300 people. More than half of them — 164 — have been Indonesian, according to data compiled by Indonesian Migrant Care. The advocate group has questioned what appears to many observers to be a "shoot first, ask questions later" policy by Malaysian police — especially concerning Indonesian immigrants.
"We think the shooting was an extrajudicial killing," Indonesia Migrant Care Executive Director Anis Hidayah told the Indonesian news portal Suara Merdeka. "Police are not supposed to shoot civilians to death."
The organization called for a moratorium on sending migrant workers to Malaysia until authorities can promise increased protection for Indonesians abroad. The Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs should recall the nation's ambassador to Malaysia, Herman Prayitno, as a sign of its commitment to resolving the issue.
"It's a big deal for our country, that our citizens are getting shot out of suspicion that they robbed someone," Anis told the Jakarta Globe. "The motives behind such incidents have never been cleared by the government and most of the time [the Malaysian] government just apologizes for shooting the wrong guys. But that doesn't matter because the victims are already dead."
The central government issued a moratorium on sending migrant workers to Malaysia in June of 2009 over the poor treatment of many Indonesian domestic workers. But the order was repealed in December of 2011 after the two governments signed an agreement increasing the protection and treatment of migrant workers, according to Indonesian Migrant Care.
Malaysian officials already sent the bodies of the three men to their home villages in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, where they joined the growing list of residents who went abroad for work and returned home dead. The men originally travelled to Malaysia to work on a palm oil planation. It is unknown where they worked at the time of their deaths of what they were doing in Johor Bahru.
“There have been 10 workers from Lombok who died like this [in the past 7 years],” Anis said.
Four of the men were the alleged members of the Ah Fatt Gang — a small gang of hardened criminals allegedly responsible for several high-profile home invasions in and around Kuala Lumpur since 2008. The men engaged in a shootout with Malaysian police at a subsidized apartment building in Kuala Lumpur. Officers returned fire, killing four of the men hours after they allegedly tied up and robbed a retired army official and his wife in Bukit Antarbangsa.
That killing came on the heels of a similar shootout between police and Indonesian robbers in Klang, Selangor. Police killed three Indonesian nationals during a firefight on the Duta-Ulu Klang Expressway on Oct 9, 2013, according to Tempo.co. The men were accused of committing several armed robberies in Selangor state.
Both cases prompted calls for an explanation by Malaysian authorities. The sheer volume of Indonesians killed by police and the emergence of an audio recording of Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the Malaysian minister responsible for internal security, pushing for draconian measures to be taken against alleged criminals, left Indonesian organizations questioning the tactics of Malaysian police.
“If Malaysian police can arrest them, why the need to kill them?" Haris Azhar, the chairman of the Jakarta-based Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), asked at the time. "We need to find out everything that was really happening. The families deserve that much."
But the Indonesian government, long accused of failing to protect its citizens working abroad, has done little to address the issue, Anis said. Indonesians have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia, abused in Hong Kong and gunned down by police in Malaysia, among other incidents.
“Our government does practically nothing," she said. "The consulate and Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent the corpses back to Lombok. Just like that. They don’t see it as a big case.”
Consular officials in Johor Baru told the Indonesian news portal Tempo.co that it was investigating the deaths. The consulate will reach out to Malaysian police and request the investigation files submitted by the officers involved. But as far as consular officials are concerned, the men were criminals, not innocent bystanders.
“The three allegedly attacked police with guns and machetes when the police were conducting a patrol in Ulu Tiram, Johor Bahru,” Sri Nirmala,the head of consular functions at the General Consulate of Indonesia in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, told Tempo on Sunday.
Anis said the consulate was only investigating the case because of pressure from advocate groups.
“The consulate is processing the case just because we pushed them to do so," she said. "Before that, nothing had been done.”